Unionized Teachers, So Vilified By the Right, Are the Heroes of Sandy Hook

Friday morning at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., teachers and school staff were the first first responders. Teachers got their students into bathrooms and closets, teachers kept their students calm, and some teachers lost their lives. Principal Dawn Hochsprung and school psychologist Mary Sherlach are described as having run toward the shooting as Adam Lanza forced his way into the school. First-grade teacher Victoria Soto was killed after hiding her students in a closet; fellow teachers Anne Marie Murphy and Lauren Rousseau and behavioral therapist Rachel D'Avino were also killed. But it wasn't just those who died who protected their students on Friday.

On this day, this was their job, to lock classrooms and cover windows and crowd children into bathrooms and closets and try to keep them from making noise. That's become part of the job of teaching, and they knew what to do. Not just the teachers—a custodian ran through the halls checking that classroom doors had been locked, and the entire school was alerted to the situation by a worker who turned on the intercom.

Kindergarten teacher Janet Vollmer read her students a story to keep them calm. But that had to mean keeping her own voice calm enough not to alarm them. How do you do that sheltered only by a locked classroom door and some bookcases?

Library clerk Maryann Jacob led students crawling across a floor to a storage space they could lock, then handed out paper and crayons.

First-grade teacher Kaitlin Roig, seen in the video on the next page, got her students into a bathroom and later recounted how, as she worked to keep them quiet and unheard by the gunman,

I said to them 'I need you to know, that I love you all very much and that it's going to be okay,' 'cause I thought that was the last thing they were ever going to hear. I thought we were all going to die. You know, and I don't know if that's okay, you know, teachers ... But I wanted them to know someone loved them and I wanted that to be one of the last things they heard, not the gunfire in the hallway.
"I don't know if that's okay." Later the same day she hid in a bathroom believing she would die, Kaitlin Roig was wondering if she'd been unprofessional in her efforts to ensure that if her students died, they died knowing they were loved.

We hear so very much bad about teachers. In the past few years, teachers have been the subject of political attacks not just in Wisconsin and Michigan and Tennessee, but in Illinois, New York, Massachusetts, California. They're ineffective, they're overpaid, they're lazy, they don't care about kids—the claims are almost unbelievable if you try to apply them to any given teacher you know, but they've been used as a potent political weapon behind reams of bad policy.

Well, it's not like Sandy Hook Elementary School was chosen ahead of time as having especially brave or dedicated teachers and administrators and staff. It's not like there's a bravest school staff competition and Adam Lanza thought he'd give himself a real challenge by facing them. No, this what you find in schools—in a unionized school, by the way, with workers represented by the American Federation of Teachers, the American Federation of School Administrators, and the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers. You find Victoria Soto, Anne Marie Murphy, Lauren Rousseau, Rachel D'Avino, Dawn Hochsprung, Mary Sherlach. You find Janet Vollmer and Kaitlin Roig and all the other teachers and custodians and library clerks who put aside their own terror to make sure students were safe.

There will be a lot of lip service paid to the courage of Sandy Hook's staff. But the real measure of who's not just paying lip service will come when we see which of the politicians and so-called reformers who've been waging political attacks on teachers look at how teachers responded to a deadly physical attack, check themselves, and stop trying to demonize teachers in the push for corporate education policy.


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